Live from Omaha!

Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Out Like a Lion

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Lexington's Triangle Park last night. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The 2013 Adequan/USDF National Convention came in like the proverbial lamb, with balmy temperatures that perhaps lulled us into a false sense of security. But you know what they say -- and so today, the final day of the convention, the iceman cometh to Lexington, the (teensy bit of) snow fell, and that was all she wrote.

Actually, Lexington has been spared the worst of it. Flights to destinations from Midwest to Northeast and Mid-Atlantic canceled like dominoes today, and all day those of us who are still here -- including yours truly -- have been swapping snow-and-ice horror stories related by the folks at home. Here are mine: My trainer, attempting to head home after a weekend riding in the Debbie McDonald clinic at Hassler Dressage in Maryland, got 15 minutes from Chesapeake City, turned the trailer around, and went back. As I write this, the horse is happy and snug in the beautiful barn and my trainer and the horse's owner are spending the night in the Hasslers' guest house. Meanwhile, some friends who drove down for the day to audit the clinic are having a helluva time driving home on that snow-covered parking lot known as I-95.

Stay safe, everyone.

So that's the weather and travel update. But I think I speak for most of the convention attendees who stayed until today when I say it was worth it, even with the getting up early and the weather woes.

Two morning sessions wrapped up the convention offerings. In the first, I had the privilege and pleasure of moderating a "fireside chat" with our new Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame inductee Charles de Kunffy. If you ever have occasion to interview Mr. de Kunffy, let me tell you, it's easy-peasy: Just hand him a double espresso, ask him a leading question, and then sit quietly and listen.

Mr. de Kunffy comes prepared, and he know what he wants to say and what message he wants to impart. Today he wanted to impress on the audience how wrong he thinks it to mistake speed for impulsion or engagement. As he put it, "'Run like hell' was not something I was taught in the riding academy in Hungary." This fault, he said, is the number-one mistake he sees in today's dressage riding and training.

He also deeply disapproves of judges who reward horses that stab the ground with their limbs instead of bending the joints and sinking gracefully like a cat; that move with extravagant action in front while "walking behind"; or that fail to elongate the stride as well as the neck in extended walk.

Finally, Mr. de Kunffy yearns for the establishment of a national riding school in the US -- a dream that's been shared by others but that's never been able to come to fruition, largely for reasons of distance and money. In his opinion, certifying dressage instructors or attending clinics and symposia can't substitute for the 24/7 immersion that an academy provides.

My only regret as moderator was that I was stuck on stage and unable to take photos. You'll want to check out the USDF e-TRAK video of this session for sure, just for the moments when Mr. de Kunffy rose from his chair and demonstrated "bending hocks," "stabbing hocks," and equine pelvises flexed and extended for the audience. He got the point across extremely well, although I confess I was afraid the master would forget himself in his enthusiasm and fall from the stage.

The convention wrapped with a compelling and extremely educational session on equine neurologic disease by Clara Fenger, DVM, PhD. I am continually impressed at the world-class presenters USDF gets for its sessions: Dr. Fenger is the researcher who discovered that it is the opossum that transmits EPM to the horse.

The session was so chock-full of information that I can't relate it all here; I'll write it up for a future issue of USDF Connection. But I can share the takeaway: Some neurologic signs look eerily like big, super-active dressage movement. As someone who's currently horse-shopping, I sure am glad I heard Dr. Fenger's talk before I bought a horse. She advises that a complete neurologic exam be part of a prepurchase exam; if there are positive findings, follow up with a neck x-ray. Problems found could be reason to walk away, she said.

So tomorrow (I hope) I'll finally head home, and sometime soon I'll resume the horse search, armed with additional knowledge. That's why I love the USDF convention: I never go home empty-handed. I hope those of you who were in Lexington feel the same way.

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